The film noir psychological thriller is injected with classical elements from ancient Greek tragedy as the repercussions of an incident from the past impacts with relentless force on three former childhood friends as adults several decades later. At the film's outset, the trio of youngsters are seen innocently playing hockey in their neighborhood until one of them, Dave, is lured away in a car and, for several days, is sexually abused. When he escapes, nothing is ever the same again; a dark shadow has been cast and the close bond between the friends is irrevocably shattered.
Also as in ancient Greek drama, the role of coincidence is pivotal when their paths cross several decades later. The daughter of one of the friends, ex-con and gangster Jimmy Markum (Sean Penn), is murdered, and the emotionally erratic, still traumatized Dave (Tim Robbins), one of the last people to see her alive, becomes the automatic suspect. Meanwhile, the third member of the original group, Sean (Kevin Bacon), happens to be the detective investigating the crime.
It's a whodunnit with a deeply emotional core, thanks to "L.A. Confidential" scripter Brian Helgeland's richly crafted, textured screenplay and the superb ensemble cast's outstanding individual performances and collective chemistry. Penn is brilliant as the toughened thug and adoring father; Robbins excels as the confused and irrational Dave, and is superbly counterbalanced by the understated vulnerability of Bacon's competent cop who has been recently deserted by his wife. Laurence Fishburne lends a touch of normality to his police partner. And while the main focus is on the lead male trio, the female partners of Jimmy and Dave--played by the ubiquitous Laura Linney (a contemporary tough Lady Macbeth character here) and Marcia Gay Harden--are the catalysts for the chilling finale. Starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Brian Helgeland. Produced by Clint Eastwood, Judie Hoyt and Robert Lorenz. A Warner Bros. release. Psychological thriller. Rated R for language and violence. Running time: 137 min